How to use sunscreen effectively and not spend a fortune!

Dr. Irwin: Based upon your website recommendation, I have been using both the Elta MD Tinted Daily SPF 40 Pump (for my face), as well as the Non-tinted UV Daily SPF 40 Pump (for my hands and neck - the tinted stains cuffs and collars). I like them both but I have a question re: how often to reapply them. I've always heard that sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours, more if I've been swimming or sweating. On your website where the products are described, it states that these products should be applied "daily." Does this mean that applying it once in the morning is sufficient if I'm not sweating or swimming, or should I be reapplying every two hours? Thank you for the wonderful information that you provide!! Michael

A reader Micheal (thank you!) asked about how to use sunscreen effectively without breaking the bank on products. And, I think I’ve confused you all a little in previous posts about how to use sunscreen. When I say put your sunscreen on every single morning on your head and neck area, chest, and any exposed parts… that is the MINIMUM you apply it. So many patients we see at our clinic, don’t even do that, so sometimes I’m focused on just getting those areas covered at least.

Let’s face it, the better quality sunscreens ARE more expensive. To some extent you get what you pay for.

Your goals are to prevent burns, prevent skin cancers and precancerous spots, and keep your skin healthy and young!  Young looking skin is healthier skin because about 80% of the changes are preventable with sun precautions, excellent nutrition and exercise to increase circulation. 

So YES, Micheal, you’re on the right track!

More sunscreen usage tips:

  • Reapply at noon or before you go outdoors OR drive a long time (remember the UVA through the car window) in the afternoon.
  • This is even on a regular day with no sweating or swimming.
  • If you’re in the water or sweating a lot, reapply every two hours, or even hourly if the sweating and swimming are constant.
  • Think zinc – 10-20% in high sun, water or sweating situations.
  • Made sure your sunscreen is formalated for the considitions your in like ‘Water Resistent” if you’re sweating or swimming.

How to get good sun protection without spending a fortune:

  • You can use the more expensive high zinc sunscreens on your head, neck, chest and hands and use a less expensive one on your body, IF you don’t already have a lot of sun damage on your body. The big Costco Coppertone Sport bottles go a long way.
  • NEVER go in a tanning bed… ever.
  • Don’t lay out in the sun except early or late in the day, and use a self tanner or spray tan for color.  🙂
  • A patient showed me a great little Trader Joe’s sunscreen that’s a great price, looks like a very small deoderant stick and has 22% zinc. Try it!
  • I will often use the Coppertone on my body and then layer over any critical areas the amazing Colorscience mineral powder. It wears like iron when sweating and swimming. I was testing this years ago when I was open water swimming in Hawaii. It lasts a long time. Takes a few tries to get used to using the brush that comes with it but is worth the effort.
  • Wear your hats, rash guards, sun shirts, etc. Much less expensive in the long run than sunscreen because you can reuse them over and over.
  • Take vitamin D 1,000-2,000 units a day, unless your doc has tested you and told you not to. Have your doctor test this for you!!

For more of my tips on skincare for people who enjoy spending time outdoors, listen to my podcast interview on The Life Athlete with Peter Shmock here. If you run, walk, hike, swim, surf or cycle outside, and not in a mall, you need to listen to this. Sun is fun, but has it’s consequences. Smart protection is a must!

Hope this helps,  Dr. I


Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

Ask me your skincare question!

Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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One of the best investments in your skin is your daily skincare. Why? Because you can prevent many problems with blotchy skin color, lack of glow, texture, some types of acne, and fine lines with good skincare products. You can also correct some of these problems with effective skincare products. Great skincare is often more expensive because quality ingredients are expensive. Some companies spend on research/development which benefits all of us and adds to the cost. Are they worth it? In general - yes! I have handpicked some of what I consider to be the best skin care products, and offer them for sale on SkinTour's shop. This is based on my team and I's testing and research at our clinic. Many of the products are in my own regimen. What could be better than using skin care products a dermatologist uses?!